I-Team: Metro police face-to-face with racial tensions in Las Vegas

Local News

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — On the streets of Las Vegas, as in other major cities, protesters demanded police reform, their anger fueled by flashpoints such as the death of George Floyd at the hands of police. Across the nation, long simmering anger at police began as peaceful protests, but erupted into something else.

“It did make me sick to my stomach that a singular officer could cause so much strife across the world,” Metro Sheriff Joe Lombardo said.

Lombardo heads one of the largest police agencies in the country — one that has vast experience in managing large rowdy crowds.

But he and others were surprised by the anger aimed at Metro officers.

“It was eye-opening for me because I remember when I first (got) hired, if an individual was standing there and got in my face and said the things to me that they were saying to my officers in today’s day, it would be a different story. I would probably lose my cool.”

Metro Deputy Chief Kelly McMahill adds, “I’ve watched them. I’ve seen video of them standing there with the worst things in the world being hurled at them. I mean, people telling them what they’re going to do to their wife and their children, right? These people don’t know these officers. And I watched these officers stand there stoic and do their job as professional as they can be.”

A Black Lives Matter protest on the Las Vegas Strip. (KLAS-TV)

Video images make it clear the police pushed back. Assorted agitators tried to incite further trouble. A police car was torched. An officer was shot in the head. And three right-wing militia member were arrested while allegedly planning to toss Molotov cocktails at cops and other targets in the crowd.

George Knapp: You’ve got agitators on both sides. You mentioned Antifa. You arrested some Boogaloo Boys, alleged Boogaloo Boys.

Lombardo: You can say alleged. I’ll say Boogaloo.

None of this erupted in a vacuum. For decades, Las Vegas was known for its tough cops who didn’t hold back.

As for race, Las Vegas was nicknamed the Mississippi of the West into the ’60s.

The predominantly Black neighborhood known as the Westside was viewed by police as hostile territory as recently as the ’80s.

“It was a concern of police officers to have to even work that area. It was considered the battleground of Las Vegas. Through time, that’s changed,” Lombardo said.

The historic Westside was once known as the battleground of Las Vegas. (KLAS-TV)

The I-Team was given access to training, testing and transparency programs and documents to see how Metro measures up.

Change has occurred within Metro, but how can it be measured and is it enough?

More on that in our next report.

NEXT: I-Team: Examining how Metro stacks up when it comes to police reform policy changes


State of Metro:

In a five-day series, 8NewsNow looks at reform in the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, and the questions raised by Black Lives Matter protests.

The series:

Nov. 16: (overview): I-Team: Metro police face-to-face with racial tensions in Las Vegas
Nov. 16: I-Team: Examining how Metro stacks up when it comes to police reform policy changes
Nov. 16: State of Metro: By the numbers
Nov. 17: I-Team: Black police officers are in the middle as protests flare, challenges grow
Nov. 17: I-Team: Black police officers set national example for community service
Nov. 18: I-Team: Use of Force Board gives citizens an inside voice in Las Vegas police matters
Nov. 18: I-Team: 2019 death of Byron Williams brings attention to Metro policies on use of force
Nov. 19: I-Team: ‘We don’t use any virtual reality,’ Metro trains using real-life scenarios
Nov. 19: I-Team: Police hiring is crucial to building a force Las Vegas can trust
Nov. 20: I-Team: ‘There’s nobody that dislikes a bad cop more than a cop,’ sheriff says
Nov. 20: Deaths in police interactions, 2013-2020 — MAP
Nov. 20: I-Team: Metro reaction to police protests mirrors progress, willingness to change

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